UN Blames Facebook for Ethnic Cleansing, Social Platform Offers No New Answers

"We will continue to work with local experts to help keep our community safe."

Flickr / ec_times

Facebook has no new plans to address claims by United Nations investigators on Monday that the social media platform facilitated the spread of hate speech in Myanmar. According to U.N. investigator Yanghee Lee, Facebook’s presence in Myanmar ultimately aided the persecution and possible genocide of the Rohingya people.

Facebook maintains that it is working to solve the hate speech problem but didn’t offer any new solutions in an email to Inverse.

“We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech campaigns,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “Of course, there is always more we can do and we will continue to work with local experts to help keep our community safe.”

What Has Facebook Been Doing?

After Monday’s report, it’s clear that this is an understatement. But as of Tuesday, the social network’s only plan is … more of the same. Prior to the U.N. investigators’ announcement, that might not have been the wrong idea. In the past, Facebook has tried a few different things to get a handle on hate speech in Myanmar, including:

  • Improving language capabilities to better understand the nuance of communication in Myanmar
  • Partnering with NGOs in Myanmar to report and censor hate speech

However, according to U.N. investigators, these attempts have been woefully ineffective to the point where the platform has actually facilitated the persecution of Rohingya people.

Why Haven’t Facebook’s Solutions Worked?

Part of the problem is the wide breadth of Facebook’s reach in Myanmar. In 2013, fewer than 1 million people in the country used Facebook; that number is now upwards of 18 million.

“Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar,” Lee said, according to The Guardian. “We know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities.”

To be fair, Facebook has also has a positive impact on Myanmar, particularly by helping the government communicate with the citizenry. But it presently seems as though the bad definitely outweighs the good, as chairman of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar Marzuki Darusman pointed out.

“It has … substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public,” Darusman said. “Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that.”

Why Is Curtailing Hate Speech Such an Enormous Challenge?

Censoring hate speech is a big enough challenge in the United States. But when it comes to regulating foreign countries, the difficulties are amplified as the result of an unfamiliarity with local languages and politics. That’s why Facebook partnered with local organizations to help out — but it hasn’t been enough.

It’s not particularly shocking that Facebook doesn’t have a new plan to address these concerns; after all, it’s a social media platform and wasn’t intended to serve as an infrastructure tool for a country in turmoil.

“I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended,” Lee said.

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